by Brenden Carlson
Genre: Sci-fi Noir
Length: 336 pages
About the Author: Brenden Carlson is a chemist and freelance writer. He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.
Summary: In an alternate vision of post-depression New York City, where energy is abundant and Automatic robots walk among men, the boroughs have been split into two sectors; one for the haves, and one for the have-nots. Now, down in the lower quarters, the mafia has taken control, the police force has become corrupt, and there is only one man who can maintain a shaky peace between the two before the whole city is destroyed in their wake—former police officer and World War II veteran Elias Roche. When a nightclub is shot up and police officers are found dead, Roche and his new partner, an Automatic known as Allen, must navigate dangerous waters if they want to to discover the truth behind the murders.
Brenden Carlson’s Night Call is an ambitious novel that never quite finds its footing. While it boasts a slew of genre-appropriate components—enough to have any fan of cyberpunk or sci-fi noir chomping at the bit—the execution manages to fall flat more often than not. The setting is maybe too familiar, the stakes not quite high enough, and the overarching theme of classism and achieving equality between humanity and artificial intelligence, while there, lacks the depth that many readers now expect in a post Blade Runner world. Add to this an anti-hero who leans more toward anti than hero, forgettable cut and paste villains, and an emotional vacuum of an Automatic partner whose attempts at a cheeky, Odd Couple-esque relationship would put both Kirk and Spock to sleep, there is little for the reader to really grab onto.
Where the novel manages to keep the reader pushing forward is in Carlson’s ability to effectively and continuously inject action into his scenes. While the cinematic style doesn’t always present neatly in a novel format, especially after several pages worth of a shootout or chase scene, it can nonetheless prove very compelling, and maybe even a saving grace for those who are specifically looking for that kind of storytelling. It’s action packed, without a doubt, leaving the bad guys shot, the shooter vindicated, and a path of destruction always trailing behind—the exact things you would expect to see in a violent new/old world where the mafia and the police are in constant battle for control of the city, and where the leading man presents as an imperfect, alcoholic veteran who always shoots first and rarely stops to ask questions later.
If you’re looking to scratch an itch that has been plaguing you since you first fell in love with noir-style science fiction, we feel your pain, but Brenden Carlson’s Night Call probably isn’t going to be the one to do it. While it stands on its own two feet as an action-packed, cinematic thrill-ride, it’s lack of depth and honest humanity leaves it falling short, reminding us more of the lost days of pulp fiction than the cherished cyberpunk genre fans have come to know and love.